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On Participating in Society


My mom once said to me,

“Michelle. If you don’t want to participate in society, then DON’T.”

Maybe the expected and natural response to such a threat would be to say “well of course I want to participate in society, don’t be ridiculous” and then you go get a job, dutifully pay your rent, get married, or whatever.

But I’m tempted by the possibility of not participating in society almost every single day.

What a fantastic liberation it could be, to no longer depend on the grocery store for food, or my car to get around, or on money to live my life at all!

It’s hard to imagine though, isn’t it. What would my alternative lifestyle look like, as in, physically? Is it a commune? Camping? A dilapidated school bus? (let’s see how many times I can reference Into the Wild). How do I get clean water? Do I need to learn how to sew my own clothes? Do I even need to wear clothes…?

I think about it all the time, but I don’t know what my real options are in terms of an alternative lifestyle. And so, for now, I’m participating in society. It’s weird sometimes…I get hung up on my own cognitive dissonance, even to the point of depression. There’s this really intense duality within me – this battle of my wills –  in which the part of me that wants freedom, asceticism, and to see the world and all its people, is constantly at odds with the other very real part of me that wants a home, a community, a routine, a steady source of income, and a companion.

The latter part is feeling super satisfied at the moment, here in my cozy apartment while I earn a relevant and respectable graduate degree from a highly-acclaimed university, surrounded by a community of students, “we’re-all-in-this-together”…

I know there must be a balance to participating/not participating in society but I haven’t found it yet and frankly I don’t even know if I’m looking in the right places.


  1. Craig says:

    Yeah, for real… But maybe you’re battling the wrong demons. Maybe this has nothing to do with “participating in society” in conventional terms.

    Think about it: do you not participate in society when you travel, when you share your culture and worldview with bartenders, tuk-tuk drivers, tattoo artists, hostel owners in Germany, and students in Australia? Sure, it’s a kind of global participation, but society shouldn’t be limited to only your home country. Borders are fluid. The world can be a smaller, more unified place if that’s what we want it to be.

    You also don’t have to travel to lead an alternative lifestyle. Right? Can’t an alternative lifestyle mean starting your own business, running a boutique, becoming a writer, a painter, or even a 9-to-5 office worker, but developing your own unique view of the world and its social structures? A lot of the pressure we put on ourselves seems self-imposed.

    In other words, you can totally have your home, partner, and job, but you can also define, in your own terms, what it means to participate in society.

    • mishvo says:

      Hey Craig! I totally agree that we can choose what type of lifestyle we want. I guess my interpretation of ‘participating in society’ is being tied into the system by money. The dependance on money and need to produce it to live that chosen lifestyle (boutique owner, writer, painter, etc.) is what I mean when I say I’m participating versus not.
      I wonder what the world would be like if it were based on human connection, learning, compassion…And that is the reason why traveling feels like NOT participating in society. Because of that ‘global participating’, that ‘sharing of cultures and worldviews’ that so often is the epitome of travel — to me that exchange is representative of a very different type of society than the societal exchange of money and goods.

  2. brianzb90 says:

    I really like this post and can relate to your position. Personally, I think you aren’t at odds so much with society, but more with how it is running. I think it’s great that you desire to connect with others in a stronger way than we currently do. I’ve just found your blog today, but it sounds like you’ve done quite a bit of traveling. Sometimes traveling a lot can really enhance this dual emotion you are feeling. I’ve experienced it myself because I love to travel and hate this monetary system that’s been developed. My solution has just been to use my intellect to generate as much $$ as possible so I can have both security and freedom. Maybe try setting a life goal, something unique based upon your talents and gifts that you can give to/ create for others. This way you’ll feel connected, but still secure financially.

    • mishvo says:

      Hi Brian, thank you for your feedback — glad you found my blog! Yes the traveling certainly contributes to the duality thing…I like the idea of just saving a ton of money so I can feel stable and enjoy the things I really enjoy doing, but I don’t think I’m the type of person who can work just as a means to an end. I need my work to be meaningful in and of itself, minus whatever monetary compensation I get in return.

      Sigh, we’ll see what happens with this whole grad school thing!

  3. RedXShoes says:

    Hi, I really like this post and i particularly love the picture. I walked away from almost all my possessions to live on new age traveler sites, thinking that was the answer. It was in the 80s and early 90s but I missed that unfortunately! Now I prefer to look for ways to live which make me feel self-reliant like running my own, ethical small business but I do think that to retain a bit of sanity, you have to stay on the margins! xxx

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